Pastor provides care after plane crash with 7-year-old survivor

By Adriane Heins

“You can’t prepare for something like this,” the Rev. Matthew Wietfeldt says matter-of-factly. He’s referring to the Jan. 2 Kentucky plane crash that killed four but left young Sailor Gutzler, 7, the sole survivor.

National media covered the story of the Friday evening twin-engine aircraft crash and the family members who were killed: Marty, Kimberly and Piper, 9, Gutzler — father, mother and daughter — as well as Piper and Sailor’s cousin, 14-year-old Sierra Wilder.

The Rev. Matthew Wietfeldt, associate pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church, Nashville, Ill., leads morning prayer with students from Trinity-St. John Lutheran School Jan. 7 in Nashville. Wietfeldt urges all to pray after the Jan. 2 plane crash that took the lives of four Nashville family members. The funeral for three of them was set for Jan. 9 at Trinity. (LCMS/Erik M. Lunsford)

The Rev. Matthew Wietfeldt, associate pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church, Nashville, Ill., leads morning prayer with students from Trinity-St. John Lutheran School Jan. 7 in Nashville. Wietfeldt urges all to pray after the Jan. 2 plane crash that took the lives of four Nashville family members. The funeral for three of them was set for Jan. 9 at Trinity. (LCMS/Erik M. Lunsford)

The Gutzlers were known and well-loved in their community, small-town Nashville, Ill., where Wietfeldt served as Marty’s pastor at Trinity Lutheran Church.

The Gutzlers were returning home from a holiday trip to Key West, Fla., when their Piper PA-34 Seneca crashed near rural Kuttawa, Ky. Sailor made her way through the woods in the near-freezing temperatures to find help despite a broken wrist, bloody nose and scratches. She was only wearing shorts and a short-sleeve shirt and no shoes. Authorities are investigating the cause of the accident.

The crash “was a complete shock,” Wietfeldt explains. “Marty was a member who was kind and gracious to our congregation and our school. He gave very freely of himself, especially when it came to our school.”

Marty Gutzler’s father also is a member at Trinity. “I’ve prayed with him, and I’ve just listened,” Wietfeldt says. “I’ll continue to meet with him and pray with him and discover how pastorally to take care of young Sailor,” who is currently in the care of family members.

What does he say to the elder Gutzler? And what will he tell little Sailor? “The Lord is in control, and He provides in your time of need,” Wietfeldt says.

Comforting a congregation

Trinity Lutheran’s congregation is struggling as well.

On Sunday morning, Jan. 4, during Wietfeldt’s preservice announcements, the congregation “prayed for our community and our church in the midst of this tragedy. It also gave us time in the midst of a horrible situation to talk about the fact that this is exactly what the Church is here for, and that this is exactly what your pastor is here for: to comfort you, listen to you, give you a shoulder to cry on, to preach the Gospel to you when all you’re feeling is the weight of the Law through death,” he says.

Wietfeldt says his personal prayers for his flock have changed and morphed through this tragedy as he observes the toll Sailor’s loss has taken on the family, their friends and people who simply knew the Gutzlers.

“My prayers have moved from the norm — the regular issues a congregation faces — to this specific situation,” he says. “This has really changed the focus of my prayers, being able to lift individuals up in the midst of their sorrow. Plus, in a situation like this, people are coming to you out of the woodwork — people who had a connection or who feel very impacted by this tragedy — and it’s a joy to be able to be very specific in my prayers for the needs of my flock and these people.”

But it’s not just Wietfeldt who’s caring for the hurting. Others are reaching out to him with concern and prayer, realizing the immense challenge of offering Christ’s words of comfort and peace to so many hurting so profoundly.

“I can’t express the immense gratitude I have for [Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne, Ind.], the pastors who have taught me, the teachers who have trained me over the years,” he says. “If it weren’t for faithful men as pastors, and men and women in lay situations, I would never have been at all close to being prepared for a situation like this, as prepared as one can be.”

Wietfeldt’s district president and circuit counselor “have both reached out, letting me know they are here for me in whatever pastoral capacity I need,” he says gratefully, and he has “a wonderful father confessor who is praying for me. When things simmer down and smooth out, I’ll work through this with him as well.”

It’s also been comforting that “many people have reached out — congregations, pastors, pastors’ wives — letting us know that they are praying for us. Being in the communion of the saints in prayer,” he says simply, “provides us comfort, as well.”

But there’s one group whose love and cares stands above the rest.

“It’s been just wonderful to have my parishioners say, ‘I know there’s a lot on your plate and that you couldn’t have prepared for this. We’re praying for you,’” he says. “It’s one of those things that, in a time like this, helps everything makes sense. Pastors take care of and pray for their flock. And then the flock, knowing that their pastor is only one individual and that he’s a sinful human, cares for and prays for their pastor too.”

A private funeral service for the Gutzler family and close friends is set for Jan. 9 at Trinity Lutheran Church, Nashville, with Wietfeldt officiating. Sierra Wilder’s funeral took place Jan. 7 at a funeral home in Nashville.

Lessons learned

Wietfeldt says he has seen firsthand how the Gospel offers rich comfort in the midst of what seems like hopelessness. But he’s also seen that hope outright rejected.

“Dealing with the national media has taught me that they want sound bites. They don’t want to hear the Gospel,” he explains. “Out of all the things I’ve said, only one or two of the local stations . . . have used anything of what we’ve been saying as the Church: preaching the Gospel and comforting people in the midst of tragedy.”

“The Church doesn’t deal in pithy little sound bites that have nothing to do with the Gospel,” Wietfeldt says. “That weighs heavily on me. It perpetuates the sorrow. The media is taking solace in the fact that one person survived, when we in the Church take comfort in the fact that Jesus really does take care of His people through His Holy Spirit, and that as a community, we’re going to make it through this, not because of our resilience or ourselves, but because of Jesus.”

The way forward

And so Wietfeldt continues his steady drumbeat to anyone who will listen: Pray for Sailor, and trust that the Lord is good, despite how it seems and feels.

“Lift Sailor up in your prayers,” he encourages. “She’s lost her parents, sister and a cousin. She is desperately in need of prayer.”

And then, he urges, know that the Lord is in control, even in the midst of situations over which no pastor or congregation has any control.

To his brother pastors facing similar situations, Wietfeldts reminds, “Know that He’ll give you the words to speak and more often than not, ears to hear.”

And to parishioners? “Never stop praying for your pastor,” Wietfeldt urges. “Pray for those affected by tragedy. Pray for your brothers and sisters in the pew, whether you like them or not. Because the Lord really does provide.”

Adriane Heins (adriane.heins@lcms.org) is the managing editor of The Lutheran Witness and editor of Catechetical Information for LCMS Communications.

Posted Jan. 7, 2015 / Updated Jan. 8, 2015

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15 Responses to Pastor provides care after plane crash with 7-year-old survivor

  1. Lani Walter, Parish Nurse January 7, 2015 at 5:12 pm #

    Holding you all close to my heart and in my prayers. Hugs.

  2. Diane January 7, 2015 at 6:15 pm #

    Praying for strength for this little girl and her remaining family. What a tragedy!! May God give them peace and strength!

  3. Ruth Stanley January 7, 2015 at 6:39 pm #

    My prayers are with you in this very sad situation, praying for you, the family, little Sailor and the grandparent as well as your congregation.
    I attend Calvary Lutheran,Lincoln, NE. we all need to pray for each other no matter how many miles between us. Like you said God is in control
    And he will give you the words to say,
    Many Blessings to you

  4. nancy renth January 7, 2015 at 8:50 pm #

    I have known Pastor Wietfeldt since he came to Nashville. Although he is not my pastor, he is the principal of Trinity-St. John school where my granddaughter is a student and my son a teacher. Pastor is a very kind person and very easy to talk to. I’m sure that he will do a wonderful job taking care of the family that has lost, for the congregation at Trinity, for the people of the town, but especially for you Sailor. She was such a brave little girl through the wreckage, finding her way through the dark, heavy terrain, with little clothing in the cold but still finding her way to the man’s house. What a special little 7 year old. I cannot help but believe that God was right there with her the whole time giving her the strength she needed to survive the crash, helping her through the wooded area and finding the house for help. I can only think that he certainly has a special plan for Sailor’s life. But this is only the beginning of her needing strength. She has to go through the funeral, going home to get all her things for wherever she goes to live and just going on without her parents, and especially her sister she was so close to. But I feel confident that Pastor will handle this also. I have seen him dealing with the preschool kids in bible study and he certainly can do the job well. We all need to ask the Good Lord to be with all of the Gutzler families, little Sailor, ourselves, but also especially for Pastor Wietfeldt that he can remain strong and help him say all that needs to be said. God bless you Pastor!

  5. Rev David Mommens January 7, 2015 at 9:14 pm #

    Amen. “Call upon Me in the day of trouble and I will deliver you.”

  6. Elizabeth Marc January 7, 2015 at 10:37 pm #

    Want to thank u so much for lifting ME up in ur time of shared sorrow & need; you’ve served well ur rolê as Pastor! Will pray for u and your Congregation – and your Mission! My family’s Home parish is Holy Trinity LCMS, Bloomington, IL Thank u again!

  7. Julie January 8, 2015 at 8:31 am #

    Don’t worry about the media Pastor, they only think they are in control of what we know or don’t know. God is in control of them too. The prayers of all our Christian brothers and sisters will continue to support you and your congregation through this tragic event and well into the future of your little survivor! Love and Blessings from Grace LCMS, Canton, MI. Thank you for being one of God’s Good Shepherds.

  8. Karen and Duane Franz January 8, 2015 at 12:43 pm #

    Pastor Matt, our Aunt forwarded this story to us. For many years you have been in our family’s love and prayers in Monroeville, IN. We continue to pray for you, the congregation, Nashville, media, the families of those who died, and precious Sailor. God truly has a work for her to do. Karen and Duane

  9. Sandy Grussing January 8, 2015 at 2:58 pm #

    I am a Lutheran Christian and a retired journalist. I understand Pastor Wiefeldt’s frustration over the media’s “sound bite” mentality, but remember this. God tells us that His word will not return to him void. Did the masses watching the 6 o’clock news hear the message? No, but the reporter did. The cameraman, photographer, and/or soundman did. The various curious onlookers did. The FB friends of all the many who shared this article did. Our job is to plant the seed and let God do the watering, nurturing, weeding and growing. What a relief that is. God will and already has blessed the Gospel seed you planted a thousand times a thousand times more than you will ever know. Lord, thank you for those you have called to minister to us. Provide comfort to all those who mourn with Sailor and her family. Amen.

    • Eric Hollar, LCMS Pastor January 9, 2015 at 7:25 am #

      Sandy Grussing, well said! As a pastor who has gone through several tragic incidents in the past, I have seen this firsthand. Besides, as you say, it’s scriptural. One additional scripture reference to add, Pastor Wiefeldt, remember this: Our battle is not against flesh and blood (ie, media, persons in the crowd, etc) but against the spiritual forces of this dark world(Eph. 6). Don’t get frustrated with the folks in front of you for not wanting to “air” the Gospel. It’s Satan who is thwarting it. Besides, as Sandy said, “Our job is to plant the seed and let God do the watering, nurturing, weeding and growing.” Pastor and congregation of Trinity Lutheran, the people of Bethel Lutheran Church, Claremont, NC are praying for you.

  10. Rev.Harold Baldwin January 8, 2015 at 6:36 pm #

    Psalm 46 “God is our refuge and strength,a Very PRESENT HELP IN Trouble and v.10 URGES US TO “BE STILL” and Know that HE IS GOD,and in control and nothing can separate us from the wonderful Love of God in all situations.
    Peace and many blessings to all who are serving our Lord in so many ways to this family.

  11. Jean Gray January 9, 2015 at 9:22 am #

    The cemetery or burial ground does not indicate a heap of the dead, but a field full of kernels, known as God’s kernels, which will verdantly blossom forth again and grow more beautifully than can be imagined. Martin Luther

    My prayers go out for Sailor and her remaining family, and also for Pastor Wietfeldt.

    “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and whoever lives and believes in me shall never die.” Jesus

  12. John T. Moeller January 10, 2015 at 4:28 pm #

    As odd as this might seem, I thank God for this well trained caring pastor, his congregation, and of all things FACEBOOK. – How many millions of people are wondering about Sailor’s welfare, knowing she must have the best possible care and a person she can trust to explain each grief as it rises to the top of her daily concerns. With Matt Harrison’s choice of media concerns, now many of us who were concerned, know there is a great explanation as to how Jesus steps forward with his people, to comfort and inform this nation. Each caring person who reads the information now multiply the prayers of care and concern.

  13. Brenda Haleyo January 10, 2015 at 8:47 pm #

    Our hearts, thoughts, and prayers are with Sailor and her family. God will give you the strength you need in a time of sorrow as such. I don’t know you but have gone thru life sorrows. It doesns’t seem like days will get brighter but they will. Put your faith in God he will help you thru this.

  14. Dawn January 12, 2015 at 7:48 pm #

    I am so so sorry what has happen to our community here in Nashville, IL but I thank God everyday for my family, friends and especially my church and Pastors at Trinity Lutheran Church. I will be praying for everyone. We don’t know why this happen but the Lord does and even thou we don’t understand the Lord Jesus is always with us and by ourside. With Jesus by our side who can be against us. Put your faith in God because God sent his only son Jesus to die for our sins. Thank you Lord for taking care of us even when we don’t know you are. Sailor will always have people who love and care for her but Jesus is always the one who will make sure Sailor is ok.

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